Saturday, December 31, 2011

Tip #34: Use a Slow Shutter Speed to Pan a Moving Subject

Landing Gear Down - Crex Meadows Wildlife Management Area, WI
Canon 7D + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS @ 1/20 sec Shutter Speed

In Tip #3 I challenged you to purposefully defocus your subject to accentuate form and color. This technique produces impressionistic-like photos reminiscent of paintings from the 19th century art movement. The blurred natural and human landscapes by Monet, Renoir, and Pissarro demonstrate that the mind takes great pleasure when it fills in the gaps. Artists like Degas used softened brush strokes to construct the body of dancers while van Gogh employed choppy lines to make his portraits. As with painting, realism is not a prerequisite for photography. While we may pay a premium for our sharp optics and fast autofocus, the details they produce may mask the story that a blur might otherwise convey.

Tip #34: Use a Long Shutter Speed to Blur a Moving Subject. 
To produce this image, I studied the flight pattern of cranes returning to their evening roost. As thousands of birds flew by, I decided to forgo the production of one more sharp picture. Instead, I began to wonder what it must be like to be a crane approaching a narrow strip of land illuminated by the setting sun. Using a long shutter speed and small aperture, I panned the passing birds as they lowered their landing gear for their final descent. Here, the blurred wings, defocused bodies, and streaked background emphasize form and color at the expense of detail. 
...the mind takes great pleasure when it can fill in the gaps.
©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Tip #33: Be a Documentary Artist

The Watering Hole - Nairobi, Kenya
Canon 5D + Canon 70-200L f4.0

It is all too easy to claim that photography is an art for those who lack the skills to be “real” artists. Millions of images captured each day on portable handheld computers are posted to photostreams across the globe. The purist of journalistic motifs, the photograph conveys the here and now, and tells a story about the moment captured. Yet, the photojournalist - the point-and-shooter - is the decider. The choice of what to extract and the noise to omit is at the heart of documentary photography. We image makers are documentary artists. The pre-capture decisions we make about the lens, camera, shutter speed, and aperture determine our point of view, point of focus and interpretation of time. Often described as the art of exclusion, the documentary artists will become invisible as they survey the landscape, make the key decisions and convey the essence of the story.
Pacifier - Nairobi, Kenya
Canon 40D + Canon 100-400L IS f4.5-5.6

Note: The Images from Tip #33 were originally used in a prior blog post from June, 2010. Follow the link to read the original entry titled "An Elephant Story." 
Foster Dad - Nairobi, Kenya
Canon 5D + Canon 70-200L f4.0
©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tip #32: Set Goals and Dream Big

Young Male - Ngorongoro, Tanzania
Canon 1D markII + 300 f2.8L IS + 1.4x Converter
Tamy and I met each other in a field research camp in 1986. Back then, we were students of biology, ecology, and evolution and working towards B.S. degrees at UC Irvine. Both passionate about all things nature, we bonded during a feverish discussion about travel, Africa and conservation. Nearly three decades have past since the day we met, and I still recall that first conversation... we were dreaming big.
Where's Dinner - Masai Mara, Kenya
Canon 7D + 300 f2.8L IS

It took twenty years to do it, but we managed to see East Africa... twice! We set the goal by planning the safaris, and made it happen by saving the money. We never fought the obstacles that blocked our progress, but rode them like surfers on a turbulent wave. Our goals were targets without clear paths to follow. 
Beauty - Serengeti, Tanzania
Canon 1D markII + 300 f2.8L IS + 1.4x Converter
For many, dreaming big is all about getting stuff, climbing the ladder and being noticed. We continue to dream big, but to us, the goals are about how to live and not the stuff we have. Travel enriches our life, and photography helps us fulfill the compulsion to live the journey. We set goals so that we can document nature, make art and share our vision about the tenuous state of our planet.   
Tip #32: Set Your Goals and Dream Big
Solitary Vulture - Masai Mara, Kenya
Canon 7D + 300 f2.8L IS
©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Tip #31: Make a List... and Check it Twice!

Cottonwood Landscape - Manning Trail, MN
Canon 5D Mark II + Canon 100mm f2.8L IS Macro @ iso 400

Yesterday’s outing reminded me of something that I’ve been meaning to share. However, age and work have conspired to cloud my focus and perpetuate my tendency to forget the little things. 
I typically make a mental needs-list prior to a local shoot, and will prepare a comprehensive packing plan before traveling abroad. The narrow niche of a nature/landscapes/wildlife photographer requires specialized clothing and gear, and the cost of leaving a key tool at home can make the difference between success and failure in the field (I will save my list of my photo-travel essentials for a future tip).
Frosted Fencepost - Manning Trail, MN
Canon 5D Mark II + Canon 100mm f2.8L IS Macro @ iso 400
Before I succumb to further absentmindedness, I should explain part II of this tip: “Check it Twice!” The modern digital camera is a complex computer whose interface often requires a third hand to manipulate. Tiny buttons and rotating dials are easily altered during the mounting of lenses, switching of cards and stowing of gear. The ease in which settings can change may result in lost opportunities. For example, mirror-up mode might be active when rapid fire is expected, or spot-meter is engaged when evaluative-metering was the plan. This type of error can be catastrophic when an owl flies into your frame and offers a mesmerizing gaze and full expansion of its wings ...I’ve definitely experienced my fair share of lost opportunities because I didn’t check it twice! Yesterday morning I ventured out on a 17 ˚F (-8.3 ˚C) day to catch the pastels of first light. My fingers were numb and my mind wandered with fatigue. The pre-dawn light was captivating so I mounted my camera and lens to the tripod, attached the cable-switch and fired away. Beautifully unique moments ...all at iso 400! This was not my intent. The tree was not running away, the landscape was static, and iso 100 would maximize image quality. So, I’ll say it again... Make a List... and Check it Twice!
Frosted Focus - Manning Trail, MN
Canon 5D Mark II + Canon 100mm f2.8L IS Macro @ iso 400
©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tip #30: Focus on the Eyes

Kirk's Dik Dik (Madoqua kirkii) - Lake Manyara, Tanzania
Canon 1D MarkII + Canon 300mm f2.8 + 1.4x converter shot at f4.5
When photographing wildlife, we will typically shoot at the widest aperture possible. A long telephoto with a shallow depth of field will allow you to isolate your subject against a busy background. The drawback of this technique is the narrow zone of focus. At maximum aperture, there is little room for error between nailing the focus and producing an unsharp image. Because the human brain is drawn to the eyes of others, we seek eye contact when viewing images of nature or people. This need to see the eyes is deeply rooted in our evolution, and failure to capture eye detail will cause the viewer to dismiss an otherwise beautiful image. 

So Tip #30 is a simple one... Given the choice of the Nose or the Eyes, Focus on the Eyes. 
Banded Mongoose on Alert (Mungos mungo) - Masai Mara, Kenya
Canon 7D + Canon 300mm f2.8 @ f3.2
©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tip #29: Use a Teleconverter

The wildlife photographer is a master of compromise. Rarely faced with an ideal composition in great light, we are forced to strike a balance between getting the shot and missing a fleeting moment. The proximity of our quarry is never close enough, and we are forever fighting uncontrollable distractions. All too often, the field of view is obscured by branches, highlights create overexposed patches, and parasites distract our focus. Furthermore, safety and respect for the animal forces a cautious approach, and should always temper the impulse to move in. While few hobbyists can afford the $6000 to purchase a super-telephoto, there is one inexpensive technique for making something distant appear close... the tele-converter. Generally produced by the camera manufacturer in two flavors,1.4x and 2x, these lenses can reduce distracting elements by narrowing the angle of view and increasing the focal length of a lens. With a price of $300-$500, the real cost of a converter is the loss light (one or two stops) and the moderate reduction of sharpness and contrast. However, when paired with a high quality fixed focal length lens, a teleconverter is a great compromise that allows us to capture distant objects without draining the college fund. 
©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Tip #28: Gear is Good Travel is Better

The Herd - Lake Lake Manyara, Tanzania
Canon 1D MarkII + 300mm f2.8L IS @ f4.0
What value is a bag full of gear when it has no place to go? Rather than sink more of your hard earned cash into a shiny new bauble that is obsolete the moment you buy it, look towards the future. Fight back the “gotta-have-it” impulse, and plan your next photo adventure. Sure cameras and lenses are treasured tools that facilitate our art, but travel feeds the vision, stimulates creativity and inspires the mind. Vision monger, travel and humanitarian photographer, David duChemin, has made a living by claiming that “Gear is Good, Vision in Better.”
Tip #28 builds on the framework that duChemin has constructed... Use the gear you have, spin the globe and be there with your camera.
©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tip #27: Take What You Can Get

Sailing The Apostle National Lakeshore
Canon 30D + Canon 17-40L @ 17mm 
The leafless woods, deep overcast, and short days of December remind me of advice I was given during my first photo-safari to Africa... “Shoot it now, and take what you can get!”

I, however, interpreted this advice in a way that deviates from the intent of the message. My somewhat “Zen” approach to photography inspires an optimism whenever opportunity is lost. Burned by many excursions to distant places where reality fails to meet expectation, I have discovered that “Take What You Can Get” is really a synonym for “Make the Image Happen.” While the first statement appears to be a forced compromise, my interpretation strikes at the heart of our art. Nature is nature. It is subject to the whims of a climate, that conspires to make the predictable random. While planning often counters this randomness, the best of plans is still subject to a cascade of chaotic collisions between meteorological, ecological and human activities.   

Tip #27: Take What You Can Get... and Make the Image Happen
The morning walk was much like a prior excursion to the Apostle Islands. With our kayaks fully loaded, campsites prearranged, and photographic goals pre-visualized, we embarked on a virgin tour of the sea caves. The light was nothing short of mediocre, Lake Superior tossed our crafts about, and we were stuck on an island forced to wait out a storm. I expected a cornucopia of photographic opportunities, but the climate would not cooperate. Two days later the storm moved on and we had one evening for some serious photography. Reality failed to meet expectation, but life goes on and we were determined to make the image happen. 

©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tip #26: Intensity in the Moment

Dominance - Lake Manyara, Tanzania
Canon 1D MarkII + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS
Have you experienced the rush? It is a primordial flood of emotion, tension, and excitement triggered by the release of adrenaline. Beats reverberate the walls of the thoracic cavity with each contraction, palms sweat, and the little hairs stand at attention. It is the thrill of the hunt, a connection to a less civilized past, to a time when we were one with nature. This is the intersection between fear and passion, the point where anything can happen, it is the endorphin... the wildlife high. Conservation, preservation and education are the public tagline, but our pursuit of art in nature is fueled by the thrill of the experience. Make images that convey the intensity of the moment.
Ssssnake! - Selva Verde, Costa rica
Canon 5D MarkII + Canon 180mm f3.5L Macro
©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Tip #25: Be an Image Maker

Blue Jeans Poison Dart Frog (Dendrobates pumilio) - Costa Rica
Canon 5D markII + Canon 180 f3.5L Macro

What is the difference between the travel snapshot that says “I was there,” from a compelling image that makes an artistic statement about a place and time. With the ubiquitous image capture device in billions of pockets and purses, our challenge is to make pictures that give pause for thought. In a world where time is ephemeral and immediacy is expected, it is the image that captures the imagination and focuses the viewer’s mind that will garner more than the obligatory two-second glance. 
Hanging Around Prague
Canon 5D + Canon 24-105mm f4.0L IS
The image taker is the snapshooter. The snapshooter walks haplessly with the cell phone in hand, arms extended, and calling for smiles. These images have slanted horizons, national park signs, and generic pictures suitable for the “magic albums” of the 1970’s. Photography can become a transcendental experience for those who learn to slow time.
After the Storm - Minnesota
Canon 7D + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS @ f3.2

Tip #25: Be an Image Maker
Turn the cell phone off (even iPhones can be shutdown), extract the camera from its hiding place, and “go walkabout.” Mount your camera to a tripod and slowly investigate a place. Study the patterns in leaves, the atmospherics in a habitat, and the details of your subject. Turn the autopilot off and take back the controls. To be in the moment, you will need to select the optimum shutter-speed and aperture for your subject, ponder an intriguing composition, and make a thoughtful lens choice. We all can become image makers when we deviate from the norm and slow time. 
©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tip #24: Follow the Path

Between Light and Dark - Tamarack Nature Center, MN
Canon 7D + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS

“At the foundation of everything is Nature” Lao Tzu
Dao or Tao (道) is the Chinese word for the way, path or route. It is a philosophical doctrine that attempts to explain the underlying order of the universe in what might appear to be a contradiction... being and nothingness. I will not pretend to be an expert or even knowledgeable about the ‘Way,’ however I can’t help but admire a philosophical objective that attempts to bring practitioners closer to Nature. Becoming “one with the tao” is to seek balance and harmony with the natural order of things. 
One Leaf - Tamarack Nature Center, MN
Canon 5D markII + Zeiss ZE 35mm f2.0 @ f16
Tao of Photography, by Tom Ang has influenced my work more than any other book about photography. This is not a text about nature, equipment or exposure theory, it is a discussion about seeing and feeling. With its focus on “less is more” and the value of “the journey,” readings and images from this book continue to impact my vision today. 
“Treat the large as small and the few as many.” Lao Tzu
©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tip #23: Include the "Hand of Man"

Black and White Colobus Monkey - Kenya
Canon 7D + Canon 300mm f2.8IS L
Include the "hand of man" when it contributes to the story you want to tell. Not all nature images need to be void of humanity. Like the flora and fauna that populate the planet, we too are the product of biological evolution, subject to ecological processes, and impact environmental stability.
Keepers of the Crater - Masai walking the Rift Valley, Tanzania
Canon 5D + Canon 17-40L @ 20mm and f11
©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Tip #22: Time Machine

Surrounded by Fire - Wonder Lake, AK
Hasselblad Xpan + 45mm f4.0 w/Central Spot ND Filter
Fuji Velvia 50

Relax ...while I am a long-time Mac OS™ advocate, this is not my covert attempt to inspire creatives to leave their antiquated mock-Mac (Windows™) machines. Rather, I’ll offer a tidbit of advice that suggests you go “retro.” Like the blinders restricting the vision of a carriage horse, digital photography now dupes us into ignoring the past. No longer constrained by the cost of purchasing and processing film, digital capture restricts reflective practice. In the film era, budget limitations forced photographic “time-outs,” so we spent hours reviewing old images. The practice of selecting the best of the best refined our vision, emphasized the importance of technique, and suggested a path to pursue. In contrast the modern digital photographer rarely invests the time to process their work let alone seek an honest self-assessment and critique. 
Not the Falls - Sol Duc Olympic National Park
Nikon F100 + Nikon 28mm f2.8 @ f16
Fuji Velvia 50 - Converted to B&W w/Topaz B&W Effects
Retrieved from old chromes that now sit dormant in file cabinets and digital captures from an “ancient” 4-megapixel SLR,  these are pictures from a prior photographic life. They are images from places I have visited in the near present, but are unique moments in time that I could only capture in the past. 
Tip #22: Get into your Time Machine, Mine your Archive, and Learn from the Past 
After the Sun Sets on Moro Rock - Sequoia National Park
Nikon D2h + Tamron 180mm f3.5 Macro @ f8

©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Tip #21: Try Black and White

Ubiquitous Iguana iguana - Selva Verde, Costa Rica
Canon 7D + 300 f2.8L IS @ f4.0
There was a time when a photographer had to choose between black and white or color prior to the shoot. As travel/nature photographers, our default plan was to load the bodies with chrome film and shoot for color. While the film bodies of the 80’s and 90’s were amazingly rugged, they could be painfully inflexible. Forced to shoot the entire roll or forfeit multiple images at a cost, black and white was little more than an afterthought. 

Enter the digital era... We millennial photographers are now like painters with an infinite palate. Regardless of the software you love or love to hate, you can now make any image monochromatic, dichromatic or polychromatic. The “new” post-processing options are so vast, that we are only limited by our imagination. More than ever I am thinking like a black and white photographer. I am looking more closely at form, tone and pattern prior to squeezing the shutter.

Tip #21: Put on those Monochromatic Glasses and See it in Black and White
Fulgora lanternaria (aka: Peanut-head) - Selva Verde, Costa Rica
Canon 5D markII + 180 f3.5L Macro
©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.